Researchers have discovered that a significant number of children who have a parent deployed in the War on Terror are at high risk for psychosocial problems.
The study, found in the August issue of the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics , suggests about one third of children with a parent deployed are at risk.
High stress in the at-home parent is the main factor affecting children’s risk of psychological problems, according to lead author, Dr. Eric M. Flake of the Madigan Army Medical Center, Tacoma, Wash.
“Military, family and community supports help mitigate family stress during periods of deployment,” the researchers write.
Dr. Flake and colleagues analyzed the psychological impact of deployment on the families of 101 Army personnel. The spouses of the deployed soldiers (mainly wives) completed a series of screening questionnaires included in a standard deployment packet. Each spouse provided information on a child aged five to twelve.
On a standard screening questionnaire, 32 percent of children scored at “high risk” for psychosocial problems. (This did not mean that the children had psychological problems, but that they were more vulnerable to developing such problems.) The percentage of children at risk was 2.5 times higher than national norms.
Forty-two percent of the at-home spouses had “high-risk” levels of parental stress on another questionnaire. Children of parents with high stress levels were about seven times more likely to score at high risk for psychosocial problems. Overall, 55 percent of Army families in the study scored “at risk” on at least one of the questionnaires included in the deployment packet.
Parents receiving support from military organizations were less likely to report psychosocial problems in their child. Problems were also less likely for children of college-educated parents. Other factors studied—including rank, the child’s sex, and race/ethnicity—were unrelated to the psychological effects of deployment.
“Since the start of the Global War on Terror, nearly 2 million children in U.S. military families have been affected by a service member deployment,” according to the researchers. Recent research has provided new insights into the effects of deployment and combat on soldiers. However, few studies have looked at how having a parent deployed during wartime affects children.
“[T]he stresses of deployment seem to be associated with a heightened risk for psychosocial morbidity in military children,” Dr. Flake and coauthors write. Deployment is also linked to high stress in the at-home parent, which seems to increase the psychological impact on children.
The researchers believe that all families of deployed soldiers should be offered support resources, which are currently more readily available to families living on military bases. Dr. Flake and colleagues also encourage pediatricians and family doctors to ask about parent and child stress in families with a deployed service member.
Assessing the parents’ levels of stress and support could help in recognizing children at high risk of problems with psychosocial adjustment, allowing them to be targeted for appropriate and timely services and support.